gene editing iconIf you edit a pig’s genes so the animal produces leaner meat and is more tolerant to cold temperatures, is the resulting pig a GMO or not?

There are those who say “no way.” No genetic material from another species is introduced, after all, as is the case with, say, GMO corn. Instead, the animal’s own genes are manipulated.

Yet just last year, EU judges ruled that “plants and animals created by innovative gene-editing technology have been genetically modified and should be regulated as such.”

In their ruling, the EU judges said: “Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] … It follows that those organisms come, in principle, within the scope of the GMO directive and are subject to the obligations laid down [therein].”

Meantime, others have stressed the need to ask the “serious and difficult questions” about CRISPR applications and how best to regulate them and the resulting organisms, including the question of who decides on matters of safety.

For every action has consequences, intended or otherwise. Not all of them are positive.

Recent studies suggest that cells CRISPRed to treat disease might increase cancer risk, and that using the technology could cause significant collateral DNA damage; those won’t be the only studies to fuel fears. But, given the potential of the technology, it’s hard to imagine a future in which we decide, as a society, not to use it.

salmonThat’s partly because the choice is apt to be driven mostly by those who believe they can profit from it, just as with transgenic GMOs, including the GMO salmon that the FDA just approved for sale here in the US.

As Politico reported last week,

The agency announced it will drop an import alert that had banned genetically engineered salmon and salmon eggs from entering the U.S. since 2016. The alert was put in place after a spending bill provision backed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) blocked the fish from entering commerce in the U.S. until FDA finalized labeling guidelines that would inform consumers the product was genetically modified.

FDA on Friday said it no longer needs to finalize those labeling guidelines because a 2016 law requiring the disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients nationwide applies to the salmon, essentially taking the product outside of FDA’s purview.

And why might a business want to grow GMO salmon? The fish grow more quickly and can be raised year-round. Any consumer benefit is minimal at best.

Naturally, those who fish, process, and sell wild salmon are worried about how this may affect their livelihoods.

The United Fishermen of Alaska referred to the genetically engineered salmon as “frankenfish” in a statement March 8. The group said the FDA lifting the ban without requiring clear labeling for the product is a “disservice” to consumers and a blow to the state’s fishing communities.

The lack of clear labeling is just one of a number of concerns. How might consumption of GMO salmon affect human health? What if any animals were to escape and co-mingle with wild salmon? What effects that might have along the rest of the food chain?

“We need to call these products what they are, which is GMOs [genetically modified organisms] or genetically engineered food,” said Dana Perls, senior food policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization.

She also said most consumers have already sent a clear message that they don’t want genetically engineered food, noting that more than 80 grocery store chains and retailers — including Costco, Safeway, Whole Foods and Target — have already promised not to sell it.

And indeed, that appears to be our main way of fighting back: Make a point to not buy the stuff – to opt for wild fish instead (and, ideally, those with low mercury content). As with pastured meat, the total nutritional profile is apt to be better; likewise, the flavor.

Real, naturally occurring food is what we evolved to eat.

Salmon image by KyotoKenshu, via Wikimedia Commons


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